For many Christians, both on the left and the right, Romans 13 endorses the power and presence of a police state, a government court system and the right of governments to tax people to pay for it all.
According to the prevailing doctrine, it is the state which has the right to be armed in order to enforce obedience and it is Christians who have a duty to obey – not just for reasons of practicality or prudence, but as a moral obligation.
The term “powers that be” – a phrase first coined by early Bible publisher William Caxton, then used in the King James Version – is believed to mean government, which is “ordained” or set in place by God. Any official wielding this government power is understood to be a servant or “minister” of God and therefore, to resist would be to incur the wrath of God.
The primary and fearful means of meting out such wrath is believed to be the state bearing arms and using them not just against actual wrongdoers, but upon anyone who disobeys instructions, regulations, or state-created legislation. In this way, the state is ascribed a god-like authority to establish its own moral order.
Reference to “taxes” (“tribute” KJV) and “customs” in verses 6-7 is believed to tie this all together by underlining that the subject under discussion is the state – and that taxes, tribute and customs are endorsed by God, without limit.
Here is one translation of the passage, from the New King James Version:
“Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to [execute] wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore [you] must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes [are due], customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”
However, although long overlooked or ignored, the prevailing interpretation of this passage presents a major problem for those who say they believe the Bible to be true…
In fact, if government courts, regulations and military/police state enforcement really were the “authorities” and “powers” referred to as God’s ministers and servants – then there would appear to be a direct conflict within the Bible:
Because the same Apostle Paul… in the same period of time… in the same Bible… specifically instructed Christians to stay away from government court systems at all costs, and described the whole system as “unrighteous“.
Read the rest of this excellent commentary by Paul Green at Romans 13 and the Right To Bear Arms by Paul Green.